Nakamura Wins Losers Final, Returns For 2nd Match With Carlsen

Nakamura Wins Losers Final, Returns For 2nd Match With Carlsen


Day four of the Champions Chess Tour Airthings Masters 2023 decided one victor in the Losers Bracket of Division I. GM Hikaru Nakamura defeated GM Wesley So in the armageddon tiebreaker after two draws. He will meet GM Magnus Carlsen in the Grand Final.

In Division II, GM Fabiano Caruana defeated GM Yu Yangyi in the Winners Bracket Final. However, the Chinese number-two then defeated GM Nodirbek Yakubboev in the Losers Bracket. Caruana and Yu will have a rematch on Friday in the Grand Final.

In Division III, GM Sam Sevian defeated GM R Praggnanandhaa for the second time in this event, this time in the Grand Final. Both players traded wins with the black pieces in the first two games, but the match was decided by armageddon.

Spectacularly, in all three divisions, the player who had lost the Winners Final managed to win the Losers Bracket for a rematch.

The Airthings Masters continues Friday, February 10, 2023, at 8 a.m. PT/17:00 CET.

Howell, who has been tweeting some entertaining behind-the-scenes photos before the broadcasts, wished Snare a happy birthday. 

The day promised to be full of excitement.

Division I

Three players had a shot at the Airthings Masters title on Thursday morning, but just one would progress to the Grand Final. In addition, the top three finishers earn automatic placement into Division I of the next Champions Chess Tour event. Carlsen and Nakamura had already guaranteed their spots, but GM Arjun Erigaisi and So would fight for the third in the Losers Semifinals.

So-Erigaisi was a clash of styles. While So has a reputation for being an ultra-solid, risk-aversive player with exceptional technique, Erigaisi has made a name for himself with dynamic, attacking play.

In classical chess, they’ve played just once—a draw at the Tata Steel Masters 2023. In faster formats, So has won twice with one loss with four draws. Interestingly, Erigaisi was the last to win, with the white pieces at Tata Steel Chess India Blitz 2023.

So won game one, although not without a few hitches. It’s difficult to find any weaknesses in the play of super-grandmasters, who are universally competent in all position types, but his preference for safety could have thrown away a win when he went for the queen trade with 46.Qxf6. 

Erigaisi was back in the game a few times, but ultimately So trapped the stranded knight on the queenside, forcing the win of a second pawn. Up two pawns, the rest was easy.

In the second game, Erigaisi had to win. A draw would eliminate him from the event. As the commentators augured on the broadcast, So is among the most frustrating players to face if in a must-win situation—his solid style is nearly unbreakable.

He forced the draw with an elegant rook sacrifice. Sachdev praised So’s play in game two: “We’ve seen so many amazing games so far, but I have to say, for me, …Kg7 is perhaps the most stunning move in the whole event so far.” 

For me, …Kg7 is perhaps the most stunning move in the whole event so far.” 

—Tania Sachdev

After the game, So admitted: “I actually didn’t see Kg7 until he took my rook because I was going to play Qd8 and go into the endgame … but moving the king forces the draw right away.”

In a display of sportsmanship, he added: “I was very pleased because Arjun is an amazing player. I have a lot of respect for him.”

Erigaisi finishes the event in fourth place, winning $12,500 and 50 tour points. So, guaranteed at least third, has earned automatic entry into Division I of the next CCT event.

The Losers Final pitted So against Nakamura, who lost in the Winners Final but had a second shot at the title in the Losers.

In game one, So was completely winning in the queen endgame when he suddenly allowed a threefold repetition. Nakamura’s reaction when he realized So had blundered said it all (see clip below). 

Nakamura: “Initially I didn’t realize that he could just trade the queens. … I was sure Qe6+ was the only move. … For some reason, I just thought Qf3 …Qxf6 Kxf6 …Ke5, and I’m just winning because I win the pawn. But, with the doubled pawns on the b-file, it’s actually losing.”

Game two lasted under one minute.

Thus an armageddon game would decide Carlsen’s challenger in the Grand Final. Nakamura won the bid for the black pieces with his offer of eight minutes and five seconds against So’s eight minutes and 24 seconds. 

After the match, So thought: “It’s just totally insane that anyone would go that low.”

So would have 15 minutes against Nakamura’s 8:05 but would also need to win. A draw would mean match victory for Nakamura.

In the armageddon, Nakamura sacrificed a pawn with Black but achieved an opposite-colored bishop endgame with queens on the board (if the queens get traded, the drawing tendencies increase greatly). So squeezed the pawn advantage, but low on time, he was unable to make anything of the extra pawn. He dropped some pawns on his kingside, and when the smoke cleared, he could no longer win. He resigned, with a draw being equal to a loss.

Howell made a good point about the final position: “Even without Black’s three pawns, this is still actually a draw. Hikaru, he knows he’s got this in the bag.” 

After the game, Nakamura shared: “He made this one mistake when he allowed me to take on b3 with …Qe2+. If he doesn’t do this, I think there are still very good chances he wins. That being said, I had my optimal setup already.”

So exits the tournament in third having earned $15,000, 75 tour points, and a spot in Division I of the next event, which is an additional $7,500 minimum. 

Division I Bracket

Division II

Caruana defeated Yu in their first game of the Winners Bracket Final with the black pieces. After a draw in game two, he won again in game three, again as Black.

It was an instructive game, showcasing power pawn play. After White’s mistake 26.Rfa1?, Caruana’s powerful response 26…c4! broke the spine of White’s pawn structure and cleared a path to the white king.

Yu then entered the Losers Bracket Final. After two draws, he defeated Yakubboev in the armageddon game with White to return for revenge tomorrow. 

It was a bittersweet ending for the latter player, who had a terrific run in this event. Despite being down an exchange, he had established a fortress, but with under one minute against his opponent’s three and with no increment, the defensive task was impossible despite the objective evaluation of “equal.”

The Uzbek GM earns $6,000 for his third-place finish and 20 tour points.

Division II Bracket

Division III

This division featured a fiery matchup between Praggnanandhaa and Sevian, who had already met in the Winners Final. Sevian defeated him there with Black in an armageddon game that lasted exactly 100 moves.

However, in the same day, the resilient Indian teenager fought back through the Losers Bracket to make it back to the Grand Final. He won game one with the black pieces, the start of what seemed to be an epic revenge story.

But Sevian shut that down in game two—in 24 moves, actually. In a stunning miniature, he showed the dynamic potential of his hanging pawns, and a pawn advance on move 18 led to an indefensible attack.

This is our Game of the Day.

GM Rafael Leitao GotD

After a draw in the subsequent game, Sevian won game four—just barely dodging the armageddon—to win Division III. 

He wins $5,000, as well as 20 CCT tour points, while Praggnanandhaa earns $3,600.

Division III Bracket 

The Champions Chess Tour 2023 (CCT) is a massive chess circuit combining the best features of previous Champions Chess Tour editions with the Global Championship. The tour comprises six events spanning the entire year and culminating in live in-person Finals. With the very best players in the world and a $2,000,000 prize fund, the CCT is’s most important event to date.

Only grandmasters are eligible for automatic entry into the Play-In Phase. Other titled players (IM and below) can play in the Qualifiers that take place every Monday starting February 13, except on weeks with a Play-In or Knockout (21 in total). The top three players from each Qualifier will be eligible to participate in the upcoming Play-In. 

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